Human errors lead to a fatal 2017 train accident in South Dakota that killed two BNSF roadway workers, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), but the agency ultimately lays the blame on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), for its inconsistent enforcement of federal regulations.
The Jan. 17, 2017, accident near Edgemont, South Dakota, occurred when a train traveling at 35 mph struck and killed two of three workers, who had been clearing snow and ice from a track switch. One of the fatalities was the designated “watchman/lookout.”
Lots of contributing factors
The NTSB’s investigation found the sight distance at the switch was inadequate for the safe use of the train approach warning method with a single watchman/lookout, and, the watchman/lookout did not devote his full attention to detecting approaching trains. The watchman/lookout also was not provided the equipment necessary to perform his duties as required by federal regulations. Additionally, the work group had incorrect information regarding minimum-required sight distance and lacked the required time to move to the predetermined place of safety for the work group.
The probable cause for the accident states the Federal Railroad Administration’s inconsistent enforcement of federal regulations for watchman/lookout equipment requirements contributed to the accident.
"These accidents are completely preventable"
“This is the 52nd fatal accident in the past 21 years involving railroad roadway worker safety in which 55 workers have been killed,” said Robert Hall, the NTSB’s director of the Office of Rail, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials. “These accidents are completely preventable when the people involved, from the workers to the regulators, follow well-established rules and perform their duties with a focus on safety.”
The 34-page final report is available at https://go.usa.gov/xPxR4
The accident docket, which includes photographs, interview summaries, factual reports and other materials used in the course of the investigation, is available at https://go.usa.gov/xPcWk.